Restoring HDML Kuparu has been more than a labour of love for ex-Navy man Scott Perry - its been his therapy.

The 46-year-old lost his soulmate and wife Michelle to cancer in June 2016.

In August that same year he found the former naval vessel - sitting on land, partially rotten and covered in a tarpaulin.

"It was more or less neglected for 20 years."

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Perry and his wife were high school sweethearts. He grew up in Muriwai before he moved briefly to Kaitaia where he met Michelle at Kaitaia College.

The couple then moved to Auckland for work once they finished school. Perry joined the Navy as a mechanic, and worked a "couple of years".

Unable to face going back to work after Michelle's death, restoring Kuparu became Perry's distraction and the pair - man and ship - started their healing together.

He said the boat had so many problems if he got stuck on one he could go and work on another while he thought about the solution for the first.

Over the next 16 months he was hard at work replacing the rotten parts, rebuilding the fuel tanks, stripping down and reassembling the engines and much more.

Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) Kuparu is a World War II anti-submarine boat which Perry said was used by the New Zealand Navy to patrol between New Zealand and Fiji. It was built in 1943 and launched in 1944.

Scott Perry lost his wife Michelle to cancer in 2016. Photo/Supplied
Scott Perry lost his wife Michelle to cancer in 2016. Photo/Supplied

Perry re-launched the boat on the Kaipara Harbour in December 2017 "when many said she'd never go to sea again".

He would not be drawn on how much he had spent all up but said the process of getting the boat in the water with the help of a crane cost $30,000.

Since its re-launch, Kuparu has done over 1900 nautical miles as Perry and his two daughters have been on plenty of trips and holidays.

While the boat may be in the water, work on restoring the 24 metre long vessel has still got a way to go.

"The end goal is have her in full museum condition and circumnavigate New Zealand."

He said he can't apply for any funding because the boat is in private ownership, but he is seeking donations and volunteers to help with things like painting, work on the fly bridge, installation of a diesel stove and more.

HDML Kuparu is a former Navy patrol boat from World War II. Photo/John Stone
HDML Kuparu is a former Navy patrol boat from World War II. Photo/John Stone

Perry lives at Kaukapakapa, 69km north west of Auckland, but has docked the boat at the Town Basin Marina since February this year due to a lack of availability of moorings or berths in Auckland.

He said Kuparu is only one of three HDML vessels in the world in original working condition. One of the other two is also in Whangārei.

Perry is now back at work as a self-employed builder, and working on the boat in his spare time.

He has held some open days in the Town Basin already which have seen 30 to 40 come aboard, and he is planning to hold more - along with working bees in the future.

As for what his wife would say about Kuparu?

"She'd just say I was completely nuts."

Perry has set up a Facebook page called HDML Kuparu where he posts updates. Anyone who is keen to volunteer or offer help in any shape can contact him via the page.

He has also set up a givealittle page: https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/exnavy